Thursday, December 06, 2012

Judging the war, not the soldier


A friend of mine who leans libertarian wrote to me:

I know that [former senator Alan Simpson, co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Commission] is not your favorite, but I think I have a soft spot for him because of a few things in common: fiscally conservative, socially moderate or at least ambivilent, and rhythmically challenged!

My friend then included a link to a video of the former senator dancing "gangnam style" to encourage young conservative activists.  Here.  Enjoy it, if you like this sort of thing.



What follows is essentially how I responded, though I am expanding a little bit for this blog.

No, he's not a "favorite" of mine, but my reservations have nothing to do with his conservatism, his opinions on social issues, or his dancing ability. (On the latter, I will be the last to complain.) For the most part, my feelings about a person's politics are distinct from my feelings about them as a person, although that sentiment has reasonable limits. I do not hate the person.  I grieve for the person's actions and what motivates them.

Character is not our true nature, and my own view of the man's character is limited, but as far as I can tell, Alan Simpson is a liar (literally, one who tells lies) who holds the majority of his own countrymen in contempt. I certainly don't wish him ill on that account, and I don't believe this is his inherent or "true" nature, but how he tends to behave based on his perception of the world.  Because of his misrepresentations of fact, he should not be regarded as a serious voice on policies that affect the lives of millions of American citizens. Let him practice law back in Wyoming and retire when he wants and enjoy his personal wealth. I don't wish to see him on television or testifying before Congress or being treated as a serious person on matters of economics or social policy.

I call him a liar because he knows as well as I do that Social Security does not add a dime to the deficit and does not belong in a debate about the deficit. He was a lot more honest about his motivation when he made the following comment, a comment that shows his attitude toward Social Security has nothing to do with economic concerns, but about social class:

The man referred to Social Security -- a vital and useful, solvent and arguably a truly conservative program that benefits society and the economy -- as a "milk cow with three hundred ten million tits." Doing a cute advert dancing to gangnam music is not endearing enough to blot out the memory of his demeaning comments about a self-sustaining program that keeps our elderly out of direst poverty and provides a smidgin of support to the disabled.

For starters, the problem with this ridiculous analogy is that baby calves do not pay for that milk out of their earnings over decades of wage labor.  And what of it?  Simpson's contemptuous words demean the very act of nourishing vulnerable beings. What kind of inhuman sentiment is that? If this man thinks about what he's saying, how he can look someone in the face and utter that sentiment?  I can only conclude that he doesn't think about it very much, that his prejudice against those who are not wealthy is an entrenched and unexamined view, a fixed assumption that is part of how he constructs the world.  Consciousness is shaped by many things, and one of those determinants is social class. 

What I am left to wonder is why a person who makes such statements is elevated to a position of respect and seriousness on matters of national policy.  These are the words of a confused person ranting on a park bench.

Does that mean I dislike the person, as my friend implies?  We are of course not acquainted, and I doubt Alan Simpson would welcome me into his society, but I'm disposed to be personally indifferent towards him as an individual.  It is Simpson's world view, his non-factual presentation of Social Security as a contributor to the nation's deficit, and his contempt for the majority of his countrymen, that extend past him and affect the lives of other beings.  His own life, and mine for that matter, are not historically important. 

It is important to remember Alan Simpson not simply as a funny conservative who did an amusing dance to promote his ideas and enjoyed a good laugh at his own expense, but as a man of immense privilege elevated by the current president as a serious and informed statesman on economic matters, and who used that position to make a political attack on Social Security, a cornerstone of FDR's New Deal.   

Judge the class war, not the warrior. 

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